Do you remember Bonanza's haunting tribute to "The Twilight Zone?"

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1959 was a pretty pivotal year in television history. It marked a sea change in programming attitudes, emphasizing more mature themes rather than shows that catered to kids. Sure, there was still plenty of child-friendly fare on the air, but '59 saw a shift with two significant debuts. 

Bonanza premiered on September 12, 1959, and planted its flag squarely in the adult-oriented cowboy drama arena. Gunsmoke proved that audiences were ready for more grownup Western shows, and Bonanza capitalized. It could be broadly comedic or deadly serious, all the while remaining seriously compelling. The show addressed real-world issues like substance abuse and domestic violence while directly dealing with themes like bigotry towards minorities. 

Just five weeks later, in October of '59, The Twilight Zone debuted. The show pushed television forward in new and unexpected ways, making audiences feel things that TV hadn't ever made them feel before. While it's true that other anthological shows existed before, none had so boldly freaked out the viewing masses.

There must have been a kinship between the creators of the two shows, as Bonanza paid tribute to The Twilight Zone in a 1963 episode titled "Twilight Town." While the name alone might not be enough to prove that Bonanza was intentionally referencing the Rod Serling Show, the story really cements it as a winking homage. Bonanza rarely featured elements of fantasy, but this episode marked a wonderful departure.

In this episode, Little Joe is left for dead when he passes out in a spooky, old abandoned ghost town. He eventually finds out the town isn't quite as abandoned as he thought. Sure, there weren't any living people, but the town was absolutely bursting with ghosts. It's the type of ghost story where the ghosts are haunted too, doomed to relive the same harm that befell them while they were alive. Will Little Joe come to their rescue, freeing the town of their past? Or is he doomed to join the mournful spirits for an eternity in... "The Twilight Town?!"

As if the story alone weren't a clear enough tribute to The Twilight Zone, there's also the repeated bit of dialogue, "Where is everybody?" Serling fans will of course recall that this is a reference to a TZ episode of the same name! 

What's your favorite ghost town episode in a classic TV Western? Let us know in the comments section below!

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24 Comments

Inthe25th 9 months ago
Bonanza also had another Twilight Zone flavored episode called Journey to Ogden or something like that in which Ben remembered through visions what really did happen to him. I believe that was in season 12 or 13.
Causeway42 9 months ago
'The Wild Wild West' delved into the supernatural with a terrific episode about a haunted house. While escorting a prisoner cross-country on horseback, West and Gordon come upon an abandoned plantation-style house. The door mysteriously creaks open as they approach. Deciding to spend the night in the house, they experience all manner of supernatural occurrences, including the crying of a woman, seemingly out of nowhere. After a near-death experience, West (or Gordon, don't remember) awakes to find it was all a dream. Riding on the trail the next day, they come upon the same house!
As they approach, the door mysteriously creaks open...
frances3agape Causeway42 9 months ago
WONDERFUL episode!
I try to watch it every time I find it scheduled
Tresix 9 months ago
There is a made-for-TV movie with a similar theme: “Purgatory” (1999) stars Eric Roberts as bank robber Blackjack Britton who, with his gang, ride into the town of Purgatory. There, they encounter Sheriff Forrest (Sam Shepard) and other overly-peaceful citizens of the town. After a while, the gang begins to notice that the sheriff bears a strong resemblance to Wild Bill Hickok and other residents look like other famous Old West figures like Doc Holliday and Billy The Kid. Quite a good movie.
frances3agape Tresix 9 months ago
YES, another wonderfully creepy movie
Mannixishot 9 months ago
I loved "The Twilight Zone" so much when I was growing up but I try watching the show as an adult and it just didn't age well for me. So many of the episodes are so slow. I realize it's an unpopular opinion but there might still be a few people in this boat with me.
FLETCH Mannixishot 9 months ago
This happens some times. I feel the same way about many shows including Happy days and Laverne & Shirley. Two shows I loved as a kid but can't watch anymore. But for me, Twilight Zone is still a well written, well produced series that I can still enjoy.
leelee1009 Mannixishot 9 months ago
I have the same experience. I enjoyed the show when I was a kid, but WORSHIPED Twilight Zone thereafter! Nowadays the show seems pretentious, and sort of depressing. It hasn’t aged well, and neither have I.
tomtriox 9 months ago
Carl Reiner once said that all tv writers were jealous of how good the writing was for The Twilight Zone and they all wanted to do an episode worthy of The Twilight Zone. That's why the Dick Van Dyke Show did 'It Looks Like A Walnut' which featured aliens called 'Twilolights'.
frances3agape tomtriox 9 months ago
YES! Danny Thomas was one of the aliens.
That and "The Ghost of A Chance" are my top 2 faves.
BYW, 3rd is the one where they think they brought the wrong baby home from the hospital
teire 9 months ago
That’s what I’m talking about/was talking about yesterday.
Cougar90 9 months ago
One of the best episodes of the series.
cperrynaples 9 months ago
On the flip side, only 2 shows goofed on Bonanza: The Flintstones & Maverick, both of which have run on MeTV!
LoveMETV22 cperrynaples 9 months ago
If by goofed you mean featured/referenced or spoofed, it is well more than 2.
LoveMETV22 9 months ago
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LoveMETV22 daDoctah 9 months ago
Yes "Bonanzarosa" on TSBCH.
Also "The Monkees" Monkees in Texas, Spoofed as the Cartwheel family.
tomtriox cperrynaples 9 months ago
Bob Hope and Bing Crosby did a skit on one of their specials. Bing played Ben and Bob played each son.
tootsieg 9 months ago
I like the Wagon Train episode “Little Girl Lost” with the little ghost girl. Very touching episode.
Mannixishot tootsieg 9 months ago
That episode was beautiful.
DocForbin 9 months ago
Maybe the Cartwrights should consider themselves lucky that Talky Tina never paid a visit to the Ponderosa.
Runeshaper 9 months ago
It's so cool that Bonanza paid homage to The Twilight Zone. That episode sounds GREAT!
Bapa1 9 months ago
Hop-Sing: "Mr. Cartwright, it's a cookbook!
Runeshaper Bapa1 9 months ago
HAHAHAHA!
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